Staffing at the new Utah State Correctional Facility is “far short” of needed levels for safe operations, according to a new legislative audit, but auditors are "encouraged" by changes within the Utah Department of Corrections.
The audit, presented to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee at the state Capitol on Tuesday is the latest report documenting concerns at the new prison, after a similar audit earlier this year found that a "culture of noncompliance" was contributing to health care problems at the facility west of the Salt Lake City International Airport.
While Legislative Auditor General Kade Minchey noted that there have been "positive changes" since Brian Redd was confirmed as the new executive director of the department in June, he writes that the department has "failed to prioritize, plan, and execute an adequate hiring and retention plan" for the prison, despite knowledge that it has faced staffing shortages dating back to 2013.
"This was a major shortcoming that has led to dangerous and harmful outcomes," the report states. "Since the move to the new prison, staffing challenges have become exponentially more difficult at USCF, reaching crisis levels."
An internal audit conducted by the Department of Corrections in 2014 recommended that leaders create comprehensive plans for recruitment and retention to stave off future staffing crises. But despite that, "no major changes to recruitment and retention were made until 2019," the audit states.
Staffing levels have improved at the prison since the beginning of 2023, but remain well below the estimated need of 895 officers for a full staff, which is based on standards created by the National Institute of Corrections.
The Utah Department of Corrections in October reported having 323 officers, which is still shy of the 562 needed for a modified staffing pattern.
The warden believes inadequate staffing levels are a "primary reason" for recent assaults against officers and "frequent inmate-on-inmate assaults," according to the audit.
Negative organizational culture within the department has impacted staffing and retention, according to the audit, which cites interviews with staff. Many employees did not feel safe meeting for a confidential interview "due to past experiences of retaliation for bringing up their concerns," the audit says.
However, many staff members who were interviewed were optimistic when discussing the new executive director.
The report recommends that the department hire professional consulting to analyze staffing, pay, benefits and organizational culture within the system.